Gratitudes

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Musician, poet, and essayist Carrie Newcomer penned a poem that has been ringing in my heart and mind these last few weeks.

It’s titled “Three Gratitudes.”

Here are a few lines:

‘Every night before I go to sleep 
I say out loud 
Three things that I am grateful for, 
All the significant, insignificant 
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life. 
It’s a small practice and humble, 
And yet, I find I sleep better 
Holding what lightens and softens my life 
Ever so briefly at the end of the day … 

… And after three things, 
More often than not, 
I get on a roll and just keep on going, 
I keep naming and listing, 

Until I lie grinning, 
Blankets pulled up to my chin, 
Awash with wonder 
At the sweetness of it all.” 

(From “A Permeable Life,” pp 9-10)

As I ponder what I am thankful for in my eight years at First United Methodist Church Garland, I find that I get on a roll like the poet describes.

My list keeps getting longer and longer, full of ordinary and extraordinary gratitudes. 

Here are just a few:

Music sung and played by kids, youth and adults that speaks to the soul and lifts the heart. 

Stained glass windows that wow the senses. 

Leadership who offered loving support during hard times. 

A wise, kind and amazing staff. 

Members who ‘show up,’ pitching in and taking care of whatever needs attention. 

Laughter in the office. 

Smiles in worship. 

And the list grows ever longer, until I am smiling with the wonder of it all. 

Thank you for being you.

It has been a blessing to be your pastor. 

Being a blessing

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

I will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491 as piano soloist with the Garland Symphony Orchestra on Friday, May 13 at 7:30pm. 

To get ready for this concert, I will be in a series of intense rehearsals beginning this coming Tuesday evening.

It will cumulate in three separate performances in Arlington, Garland and Irving on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, respectively. 

I owe this special guest artist residency to one persistent and determined Donna Bentley, who tirelessly advocated for me over many years with the Garland Symphony’s music director, Robert Carter Austin, alongside her husband Gary. 

She asked me back in 2014 to send her my resume and some materials.

It wouldn’t be until 2017 that Maestro Austin could come to one of my solo recitals to hear me play.

In 2020, he got in touch with me, made the formal invitation to solo with his orchestra, and we began to discuss repertoire.

The contracts were issued, negotiated and signed in 2021, and now the concert happens in 2022. 

This is as much Donna’s concert as it is mine, thanks to her investing in this engagement over eight years, especially as for most of these years it never looked like this was going to happen. 

What Donna did for me is in keeping with the spirit and essence of our congregation: generosity, service and being a blessing.

Whether it’s hosting ChamberWorks, spearheading Running for Clean Water, Night in Bethlehem, helping Freeman Elementary, or showing up to a concert series to listen to virtually unknown artists play and sing their hearts out, I cannot think of a group of people that endeavors to walk in the light and to show love more than First United Methodist Church Garland. 

Thank you for being a blessing in my life, church family.

May the Lord sustain us all as we continue to serve and work through long-term projects in order to help others and show us that our efforts are not in vain. 

Hope remains

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Our Lenten pilgrimage has taken us to Jerusalem. We’ve followed Jesus as he entered the city on a donkey. We’ve heard the cries of “Hosanna!” We’ve felt the expectations of the crowds in our bones; felt the swell of our own expectations in our hearts.
 
“Will God finally get rid of the Romans? Will Jesus finally ascend the kingly throne of David? Will this be the time when God makes everything right?”
 
Time seems to have slowed. Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover and share the Seder feast. Surely, the story of liberation from oppression and slavery will cease to be just a story – it will be reality!
 
Today, though, all those expectations are dashed in cruel fashion. The world crumbles as Jesus dies. The unimaginable takes place before our very eyes, and the scene is horrible beyond imagining.

“Where is God?” the disciples must have wondered … shouted … sobbed. It’s not supposed to end like this!
 
At times of horrible loss and crisis, hope seems to disappear.
 
Yet it is in such desperate times when hope throws us a lifeline. When all seems lost, hope remains.
 
“Hope is what is left when your worst fears have been realized and you are no longer optimistic about the future. Hope is what comes with a broken heart willing to be mended.” (Quoted in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Advent).
 
We modern-day pilgrims are living through what some have called the “Great Unraveling.” Our days are filled with pandemic, war, hostile division.
 
But hope remains. It’s a slender, shining thread we hold onto this Good Friday. God will show up. Our hope is not in vain.

Lifting the Cup

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:25-26

In the key Scripture for this collection, we hear that the Psalmist will lift the cup of Salvation as an expression of gratitude for blessings from God.

That image reminded me of the first time I led a Love Feast at our church family camping outing.

It was Sunday morning, and we were grubby and tired.

It took a while to gather all the kids (and adults!) for the worship service that would close our weekend.

Our pastor visited the day before, but no one thought to bring “official” communion elements – so he prayed over a couple of juice pouches and a handful of hamburger buns.

But remarkably – when the time came to have the simple laity-led form of the Lord’s Supper – as I talked about these everyday items being “set aside” and becoming more than they were before – all the fidgeting stopped.

It was one of the most meaningful worship experiences I have ever had.

After worship closed, the kids joined me in returning the elements to the Earth and the birds.

None of the poking and pushing from earlier, they too were transformed.

Prayer: Father God, help me to remember that I have also been consecrated. Like the buns and juice, I am transformed. Remind me and use me. Amen.

Jack Kincaid, Canmore, Alberta


A daily Lenten devotional reprinted with permission from The Society of St. Andrew to inspire help sharing nourishing food with neighbors in need. 

Every $1 donated provides more than 40 servings to those in greatest need. A donation of $47 for the 47 days in Lent provides more than 1,880 servings. 

What a way to celebrate the resurrection of hope and lift the cup of salvation for our hungry neighbors! 

Sacrifice and Thankfulness

Scripture: Psalm 116:8

The writer of Psalm 116 is recovering from illness and is so grateful to God he asks, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?”

Have you ever had somebody bail you out of a bad situation, and you have no idea how to repay that gift?

The Psalmist offered this song of thanksgiving and concluded the repayment would be devotion and faithfulness.

They promise to work together with God’s people in worship and service.

God has blessed me in so many ways.

I have a wonderful family who loves me more than I love myself.

I have a supportive church family.

I have had many meaningful jobs.

I, like the Psalmist, recovered from pretty severe illness and am in reasonably good health.

So, what shall I return to the Lord?

I have no riches to give, and the Lord does not need my riches anyway.

I can only give what the Psalmist recommends – devotion, faithfulness, and a desire to work with all God’s people to bring about God’s dream – for all the people of the Earth to know of His goodness and mercy.

Prayer: Lord, so often, I think of sacrifice as a negative thing. Help me see any sacrifice I make to further your kingdom is an expression of thankfulness to you for all my many blessings. Amen. 

Chris Howell, Lynchburg, VA


A daily Lenten devotional reprinted with permission from The Society of St. Andrew to inspire help sharing nourishing food with neighbors in need. 

Every $1 donated provides more than 40 servings to those in greatest need. A donation of $47 for the 47 days in Lent provides more than 1,880 servings. 

What a way to celebrate the resurrection of hope and lift the cup of salvation for our hungry neighbors! 

What Cup Will You Drink?

Scripture: Matthew 20:20-22a

Growing up in a home where food was always available, we often had choices about both food and drinks.

It wasn’t easy to comprehend how some of our neighbors lived much more sparsely.

As a high school student, I joined a group that traveled to the barrio south of our school to tutor grade school students.

There, I first met young children whose basic daily food came from school.

I listened as Mario told me he sometimes couldn’t pay attention in class in the morning because he hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before.

One day he explained, “Mama gives me warm water or tea before I get on the bus. I try to take home the milk from lunch so I can drink it before I go to bed at night.”

I could not imagine how he could be grateful for such a little bit of nourishment until I realized he sometimes had no other food or drink!

When the Psalmist asks, “what shall I return to the Lord for all (God’s) bounty to me?” I wonder if the cup of Salvation might look more like a half- pint of milk?

Prayer: Lord, in these Lenten days, help us choose well the cup we are willing to drink. Strengthen us to recognize and receive your gift of Salvation, even when it comes through a cup of suffering. Amen.

Linda McKiernan-Allen, Indianapolis, IN


A daily Lenten devotional reprinted with permission from The Society of St. Andrew to inspire help sharing nourishing food with neighbors in need. 

Every $1 donated provides more than 40 servings to those in greatest need. A donation of $47 for the 47 days in Lent provides more than 1,880 servings. 

What a way to celebrate the resurrection of hope and lift the cup of salvation for our hungry neighbors! 

The Little Wooden Cup with Enormous Meaning

Scripture: Titus 2:11

Family heirlooms and meaningful gifts stay in a cabinet in our home.

Each item brings feelings of contentment: connection to family or fond memories of people and events surrounding the gifts.

One thing stands out atop the cabinet: the small, simple, wooden communion cup from the Holy Land given to me by my former pastor.

This cup was made from wood near the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptized and then began His ministry.

What that little wooden cup symbolizes, however, brings more than contentment.

It represents the great mystery of faith, often recited before receiving Communion in our church: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.

It represents the Cup of Salvation: the cup of thanksgiving, forgiveness, all of God’s blessings.

With its imperfections in the wood, that cup exemplifies how our transgressions also mar us as human beings.

What goes into our cup of Salvation, the blood of Christ given for all is pure.

In thankfully taking the cup, we receive forgiveness and all the blessings of God: most significantly, the greatest gift of life eternal.

The little wooden cup was meaningful because of its place of origin and who gave it to me.

But partaking in the cup symbolizes the unmatchable gift of forgiveness and blessing poured out for me through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Prayer: Merciful Father, we humbly thank you for Jesus, who through his
suffering, death, and resurrection, gave us the greatest gift: Salvation. Amen.

Julie Erickson, Olathe, KS


A daily Lenten devotional reprinted with permission from The Society of St. Andrew to inspire help sharing nourishing food with neighbors in need. 

Every $1 donated provides more than 40 servings to those in greatest need. A donation of $47 for the 47 days in Lent provides more than 1,880 servings. 

What a way to celebrate the resurrection of hope and lift the cup of salvation for our hungry neighbors! 

A Double Draught in the Cup of Judgment

Scripture: Revelation 18:6

The theme of “The Cup of Salvation” brings to mind other cups in the Bible, like the cup of judgment in Revelation 18:6.

The Book of Revelation interprets the Roman Empire as the antithesis of the Realm of God.

In Revelation 18:1-24, God condemns Rome for idolatry and injustice, such as the wealthy feasting and ruling by violence while others struggle against hunger and persecution.

However, the Roman Empire, and its way of life, would be destroyed by the same means it used to rule.

Injustice would cause it to collapse.

Violence will consume Rome, but the passage offers a way forward.

“Come out of Rome!” (Revelation 18:4).

That is, “Turn away from idolatry, live in covenant, and provide food and opportunity for all.”

This Lent, we can consider how similar today’s world is to Rome.

According to Revelation, idolatry, exploitation, and violence set in motion patterns of decay that eventually cause social collapse.

But it is not too late.

We can heed God’s call:

“Come out of the values and practices of today’s empire. Feed hungry people. Live in peace. Create opportunity.”

Prayer: God, help us confess the ways we support empire in our time. Help us find the courage to say “Yes” to your invitation to “Come out!” Amen.

Ronald Allen, Indianapolis, IN


A daily Lenten devotional reprinted with permission from The Society of St. Andrew to inspire help sharing nourishing food with neighbors in need. 

Every $1 donated provides more than 40 servings to those in greatest need. A donation of $47 for the 47 days in Lent provides more than 1,880 servings. 

What a way to celebrate the resurrection of hope and lift the cup of salvation for our hungry neighbors! 

My Cup of Tea

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:18

We use the phrase “my cup of tea” to say we are pleased with something that seems just right.

I believe the cup of Salvation is rooted in “T” for thanksgiving.

We are told to give thanks not FOR all things, but IN all things.

Many years ago, in a single month, my mother died; I hospitalized my father; and my husband of 16 years left me for another woman.

Thirty years later, in 4 months, my house burned down; my second husband was diagnosed with cancer – all the day before our daughter’s wedding.

I felt like a modern-day Job!

The only thing that kept me going was the sure and certain hope that God was in the midst of it with me.

All I had to do was give thanks for the presence of Jesus walking with me every step of the way.

Hindsight is usually 20/20, and many things have happened since then.

Things that seemed like tragedy turned into triumph, what seemed terrible, turned into good!

My cup of tea had a bitter taste of tragedy but became an overwhelming taste of triumph and thanksgiving!

During the challenges and changes in our lives, we must hold on to our faith.

We must remember the cup of Salvation and saving grace is ours and give thanks.

Prayer: Lord, help me to remember to praise you and give thanks in all things. Amen.

Kathleen Vermillion Price, Williamsburg, VA


A daily Lenten devotional reprinted with permission from The Society of St. Andrew to inspire help sharing nourishing food with neighbors in need. 

Every $1 donated provides more than 40 servings to those in greatest need. A donation of $47 for the 47 days in Lent provides more than 1,880 servings. 

What a way to celebrate the resurrection of hope and lift the cup of salvation for our hungry neighbors! 

Cup of Blessing

Scripture: Matthew 5:6

We accepted it academically.

We believed it conceptually.

Now we know it personally: the Triune God cannot be bound by time, space, or place.

This understanding is one of the blessings Christ’s church has received from the horrible virus, COVID-19.

Sitting at my dining room table, leading worship, and officiating the Lord’s Supper on Zoom feels different from standing physically at the Communion Table before the people of God.

Yet, the bread and wine are no less valuable for those worshiping and communing at home.

God works through the elements, regardless of time, space, or place.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, he does good work within us and through us.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

– Matthew 5:6

Do I prefer in-person worship? Of course.

But the Lord keeps reminding me that this virus does not separate us from God’s love.

This virus allows us to show hospitality in new ways and show how we take joy in protecting the “least” among us as God’s people.

We still are blessed to be a blessing.

We still are the body of Christ, empowered as we faithfully move beyond the walls of our church buildings to seek and promote righteousness, exhibiting the kingdom of heaven to the world.

Prayer: Dearest Lord, thank you for giving your life – the ultimate sacrifice – so we might have hope. Help us share your eternal kingdom of love and grace here on Earth with the lost and lonely. Amen.

Katy Yates Brungraber, Chambersburg, PA


A daily Lenten devotional reprinted with permission from The Society of St. Andrew to inspire help sharing nourishing food with neighbors in need. 

Every $1 donated provides more than 40 servings to those in greatest need. A donation of $47 for the 47 days in Lent provides more than 1,880 servings. 

What a way to celebrate the resurrection of hope and lift the cup of salvation for our hungry neighbors! 

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